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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 15:50 GMT


Hubble's galactic gallery

A galaxy called NGC 5653 - 161 million light years distant

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Fresh views of the process of starbirth have come from the Hubble Space Telescope after its gaze penetrated the dust clouds swirling around the centres of distant galaxies.

They were taken with the now broken-down Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer.

Glowing hydrogen, the raw material from which stars are born, is coloured red in the images.

[ image: NGC 3593 - relatively close at 28 million light years away]
NGC 3593 - relatively close at 28 million light years away
The red knots are rich star-forming regions where hydrogen gas is heated by the intense ultraviolet radiation from young, massive stars in the cloud's centre.

The observations were made in infra-red light. If visible light was used, many of these regions would be hidden from view by the clouds of gas and dust in which the stars are born.

The white areas In the images are the light from middle-age stars. The dark material is dust.

These galaxies are part of a Hubble census of about 100 spiral galaxies.

The space telescope is currently close to having to cease its observations. It has no spare gyroscopes available to point the telescope in the right direction.

If another gyroscope fails, the telescope will automatically go into a safe mode and wait for a repair mission.

The next such mission has been brought forward October this year.

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